Travel tips

Published on June 14th, 2014 | by Geckos Tales Team


12 of the weirdest airports you’ve ever seen

Read time: a bit over 6 minutes

Travel and airports. They’re intrinsically linked. Love ’em or hate ’em, there’s simply no avoiding ’em (unless you swim). There’s loads of splashy, flashy ones that make you so relaxed you’ll forget about the seven hour layover. But today we’re going to look at some of the world’s weirdest.

1. Qamdo Bangda Airport, Qamdo, Tibet

If you wanna find the longest commercial runway in the world, skip the big cities and head to this tiny mountain valley in eastern Tibet. It’s got a single runway that stretches for a whopping 5.5 km and sits at 4334m above sea level.

The airport is about two and a half hours drive from the actual town of Qamdo, so the journey to get there will take you past some pretty dramatic scenery. But don’t expect much when you arrive. Basically, this airport is all about functionality and safety. The length isn’t there to break some crazy world record, it’s all about safety. The higher the altitude, the longer the runway needs to be. So before you start complaining about the lack of food court, wifi and the lengthy take-off time just remember it’s for your benefit!

2. Lukla Airport, Nepal


Lukla Airport | Photo courtesy of ilkerender. Flickr

Strap yourself in, cos this one’s a doozie. Flights run daily between Lukla and Kathmandu, and if nothing else it’s a great way to get the adrenaline pumping before your Everest adventure.

At an elevation of 2800m, the 20m-wide airstrip runs for 450m before dropping dramatically to the river valley below. If you don’t get enough speed you simply drop off the edge until you get lift and hopefully find yourself back in the air again.

The airport is at the mercy of the wind and weather, and delays are common. But with a huge mountain on one end and a thousand metre drop on the other you’ll probably want to go ahead and order that second vodka while you wait it out.

As you approach the airport in your tiny plane, you’ll go through a maze of spectacular mountain peaks and a blanket of clouds. Navigation is by sight only, and your pilot needs to clear a high ridge, bank left, descend steeply, straighten the airplane and finally make a safe landing. But don’t let this put you off. As the gateway to Everest this is a very popular airport and the busiest domestic airport in Nepal. In the peak season there’s about 50 flights per day. So strap in, hold on and enjoy the ride.

3. Barra Airport, Scotland


Barra Airport runway | Photo courtesy of Dave Conner, Flickr

Scotland might not be your first pick for the country most likely to have an airport on the beach, but…well…it does. The beach on the island of Barra, just off Scotland’s West Coast, has been used as a runway since the 1930s, and flight schedules have to be designed around the tide (because the “runway” disappears at high tide). The airport takes around 1000 flights a year.

4. Madeira Airport, Madeira

Landing in Madeira Airport

Madeira Airport, on stilts | Photo courtesy of Alexander Bexevanis, Flickr

A tiny island off the coast of Portugal, tourism is vital to Madeira’s economy, which means having a runaway big enough to land commercial airliners is also vital. Originally, they had a modest 5000 metre runway, but after deciding that wasn’t big enough, they got some engineers to extend it by throwing in a load of girders (or stilts) and attaching more tarmac to the existing one. It even won an Outstanding Structure Award from the International Association for Bridge and Structural Engineering in 2004.

5. Kansai International Airport, Osaka, Japan

Bit of a disaster, this one. Kansai was designed to relieve overcrowding at Osaka International Airport. And because land is so scarce in Tokyo the engineers decided to build it offshore. This meant no complaints from the neighbours about noise pollution and it could stay open 24hours a day.

So work started on a man-made island measuring 4km long and 2.5km wide. It’s so big you can see it from space. However, old Kansai has turned into a bit of a monster and has now started to sink. Efforts to save it turned into the most expensive civil works project in modern history. It sucked up 20 years of planning, three years of construction and several billion dollars of investment. Three mountains were excavated for 21,000,000 cubic metres of landfill. It required 10,000 workers for 10 million work hours over three years. Tough gig!

Kansai is the hub for several airlines and is the international gateway for Japan’s Kansai region, which contains the major cities of Kyoto, Kobe, and Osaka. But global warming could pose a serious threat to it’s future.

6. Ice Runway, Antarctica


Ice Runway, Antarctica

There are three airstrips in Antarctica, but this one is made entirely of ice. Though it may sound risky, C-130 Hercules and C-17 Globemaster III planes regularly land on the strip with ease. That’s kinda all there is to it.

7. Juancho E. Yrausquin Airport, Saba, Netherlands Antilles


Juancho E. Yrausquin Airport | Photo courtesy of Patrick Hawks, Flickr

It’s only 1300 feet long and is mainly used to land smaller aircraft to provide supplies and other useful things, like mail, to the local population.

8. Gibraltar Airport, Gibraltar

Ok we’re gonna be upfront about this one. Basically, one of Gibraltar’s busiest roads cuts directly across the runway. Yep, when you stop at a traffic light here you’re making way for a bloody great plane to take off.

Gibraltar is a tiny British overseas territory with an area of only 6.8 square kilometres. It sits between Morocco and Spain and thankfully it’s not the busiest airport in the world. There’s only about 30 flights a week, but each one has to cross Winston Churchill Avenue. The barriers might look flimsy, but you’d be a fool to think you could run a red light here!

Locals are pretty stoked at plans to build a tunnel under the airstrip as traffic can often get banked up for hours. So if you want the weird experience of waving at kids in their cars while you cruise down the runway then get in quick!

9. Princess Juliana International Airport, Simpson Bay, Saint Marteen


Plane landing at Princess Juliana Airport | Photo courtesy of Takashi Ota, Flickr

Just look at the photo. LOOK AT THE PHOTO. The road between the beach and the runway at this airport is said to be so close to incoming planes that small trucks and larger vehicles could be at risk if they’re there at the wrong time. Gulp.

10. Hong Kong International Airport, Chek Lap Kok, Hong Kong

Sitting on on an artificially created island, this is one place you won’t mind a delay. It’s also a pretty good place to practise your swing, with a luxury 9-hole golf course. It’s been built to USGA (United States Golf Association) standards and contains 7 par-3 and 2 par-4 holes on its lush rolling greens. You can hire clubs and if you land after dark, there’s floodlights to help you see the ball.

There’s an Automated People Mover (APM) internal shuttle between the East and West Halls, 74 moving walkways and all your favourite shops (for browsing obviously) like Jimmy Choo, Marc by Marc Jacobs,Tiffany & Co,Valentino and Versace.

11. Don Mueang International Airport, Bangkok, Thailand


Round of golf, anyone?

Runway? Check. Terminals? Check. Air traffic control? Check. Eighteen-hole golf course? Um…check! Technically the golf course isn’t in the airport, but it is situated right between the two runways. They were going to build the extra runway through the middle of the course, but instead decided to build it on the other side. The security risk means it’s pretty hard for the general public to get a game in, mind.

12. Courchevel International Airport, France


Courchevel airport, France

A inconveniently placed slope in the runway of this fancy ski resort means that pilots have to land their planes uphill and takeoff downhill. Then they have to navigate the French Alps. Pilots actually need a certificate to be deemed qualified to use the runway.

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About the Author

We run awesome trips around the world. But when we're not on the road, we're sitting here and writing loads of travel-related insights, tips, information and advice. Geckos Tales is your go-to source for whenever you need to find something out about pretty much anything.

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